TV Binge: Never Have I Ever (Season 1, 2020)

Never Have I Ever (Season 1, 2020)

Never Have I Ever

Creators: Lang Fisher & Mindy Kaling

Cast: Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Darren Barnet, Jaren Lewison, Poorna Jagannathan, Lee Rodriguez, Ramona Young, Richa Moorjani, Niecy Nash, Adam Shapiro

The complicated life of a modern-day first generation Indian American teenage girl, inspired by Mindy Kaling’s own childhood. – IMDB

While I haven’t been following Mindy Kaling’s career and probably only have seen one movie with her (Ocean’s Eight) and haven’t been exposed to her humor a lot, Never Have I Ever has a fun and unique script and layout. For one, a lot of shows that puts together cultural background with teenage coming of age do create a good effect. This show is no exception. When you look at the different elements of this teen coming of age comedy, there’s a lot to love.

For one, the script itself really brings these characters alive. Its not only Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) who has her spotlight even if she is a major focal as this season focuses heavily on her desire to be different whether its acting out from a deeper issue stemmed from her father’s death. At the same time, her two best friends Eleanor (Ramona Young) and Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) have their own unique quirkiness that makes the three of them really fun to watch together. Much like the two boys, Paxton (Darren Barnet) and Ben (Jaren Lewison) which also have their differences that separate them significantly as they start stepping more into Devi’s life. However, the show is much more than that as the cultural elements come with majorly with Devi and her family which consists of her mother and her pretty older cousin. As she navigates through school, family, grief, friends and boys, her life is narrated charmingly by John McEnroe with a special episode narrated by Andy Samberg for an episode focused on Ben. A great part of the series charm and humor does come from these voice-over bits as they are a little sarcastic, judgmental and analytical of the whole situation.

The main plot of the story with Devi almost links to films like The Edge of Seventeen (review) where it focuses on a high school girl trying to pursue a school hot guy to lose her virginity where Devi is in the same situation where she tries to break out of her nerdy and invisible presence at school with her friends and try to start the school year after a year of being mysteriously handicapped as her body’s defense mechanism after her father’s death, making her having the wrong kind of spotlight. With that mind, the three set out to pursue the good-looking popular guys which gives revelations on multiple levels as Fabiola embraces her sexual orientation while Devi starts building affections that exceed that of pure appearances as she starts to know Paxton more but also getting to find the points that she can connect with her school competition Ben. Much like Paxton and Ben also have their own set of issues with their own lives. Each of these characters are full of personality as they start to revealing them bit by bit giving them a lot more substance.

What makes them more relatable is that they aren’t perfect especially when looking at Devi who makes some of the worst judgment calls. It all builds up from her sessions with her psychiatrist which highlights the unsolved issues she has as she still hasn’t completely coped with the loss of her father which also has its weight especially in the family segments particularly her conversations with her mother. The family segments giving a lot of weight as it brings in a more dramatic side which definitely hits Devi harder especially with her mother (Poorna Jagannathan) while with her cousin Kamala (Richa Moorjani), its more of an envious side as she believes that her beauty covers up how nerdy she is which is something that she doesn’t think that she has. Devi turns into a rather unlikeable character at one part and needs to slowly redeem herself and these moments are constructed really well much like the character’s development all progress consistently and does make sense.

In many ways, Never Have I Ever’s first season is a pretty fun season to build a foundation for the show. The characters are built up well and there’s a good sense of how the relationships and chemistry with everyone as they can easily develop further from where they end at this point. Running at 10 episodes, Never Have I Ever is absolutely binge-worthy as its both fun and comedic. It has a really strong script giving a lot of memorable characters. There are some very awkward moments but then it does feel normal for a bunch of awkward teens making questionable decisions. Plus, while its mostly about an Indian American teenage girl acting out and pissing everyone off (its literally the title of one of the episodes), the story has a lot of depth and meaningful moments as it also deals with family, grief and loss which definitely adds to the whole story.

Afterlife of the Party (2021)

Afterlife of the Party (2021)

Director: Stephen Herek

Cast: Victoria Justice, Midori Francis, Robyn Scott, Adam Garcia, Timothy Renouf, Gloria Garcia, Spencer Sutherland, Kiroshan Naidoo

A social butterfly who dies during her birthday week is given a second chance to right her wrongs on Earth. – IMDB

Afterlife of the Party is a supernatural comedy film. There’s a certain trajectory for these films which focus mostly on the person who has lost their life trying to redeem themselves. In this case, its about Cassie (Victoria Justice) who is stuck in the in-between with a deadline to resolve three issues with three people on her list: her dad, her mom and her best friend, as they all cope with her death as it approaches its one year anniversary, each with their own sets of skeletons in the closet. With the help of her “guardian angel” almost like an emotional support, she starts to figure out how to connect with the living and move forward through her observations to figure out how to help them and herself to move on before the window of opportunity to amend her ways passes.

The journey for Cassie is one that is expected but feels less heavy-handed and fairly natural in Victoria Justice’s portrayal of her growth as it shifts from her self-centred party girl living self to the after death version which slowly starts to face up to the hard things and making this journey about helping them than about herself moving on. In that sense, the story does hit some good heartwarming notes as she does connect and resolve those feelings bit by bit. Victoria Justice fits into this role incredibly well and a lot of what makes this film fun to watch is her dynamic along with her best friend’s Lily played by Midori Francis. Midori Francis did a great job when she was leading the Netflix series Dash & Lily and it carries forward here although an older but still more closed character. However, the contrast of these two characters does keep them relatively grounded especially as Cassie tries to pull together Lisa and her little crush with the neighbor Max (Timothy Renouf). Those moments are definitely the more comedic moments. Much like the “guardian angel” role, Val played by Robyn Scott which is absolutely charming and fun to have around, it gives the film an overall fun vibe.

On the other hand, Cassie’s face-up to her dad (Adam Garcia) and her mom (Gloria Garcia) individually brings up a whole other element. The mom bits actually don’t pull the heartstrings as much as the connection she has with her sister, which ends up being a nice little surprise. While her relationship with her father which gets a good idea of where they stand from the beginning of the film actually rounds it up in a fairly heartwarming manner.

Overall, Afterlife of the Party is a pretty simple premise and relatively formulaic. However, it does feel better executed as its more natural trajectory and the characters are more appealing to watch. As much as Cassie feels like she isn’t great in the first impressions, she still has moments that do redeem herself throughout which feels well-transitioned and comfortable to watch. Plus, the cast all around is fun overall and does a decent job which makes this film a pretty entertaining.

The Kissing Booth 3 (2021)

The Kissing Booth 3 (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Vince Marcello

Cast: Joey King, Jacob Elordi, Joel Courtney, Molly Ringwald, Taylor Zakhar Perez, Maisie Richardson-Sellers, Meganne Young, Stephen Jennings

It’s the summer before Elle Evans is set to head off to college, and she has a big decision to make. – IMDB

The final film of The Kissing Booth trilogy takes place the summer before college which pretty much picks up almost after the last film. With college decisions, friendship and love to balance out, Elle is stuck trying to please everyone but not exactly being able to achieve it especially when she has to accept her father also moving on and finding himself a girlfriend who seems to want to replace her mom. If you have seen my review of the first (review) and second (review) films, you will probably know that I am not a big fan of the films, in fact The Kissing Booth getting 2 more films after the first one was a pretty surprising development overall. Still, there’s always hope that it can get better since the second one was a tad better than the first. Who knows, right? With the mentality to finish up the trilogy and to keep on track with Netflix releases (since I’m not going to the theatres yet), here we go!

The Kissing Booth 3 feels pretty much exactly how I felt about the previous two. The story itself is pretty basic. The characters are not really too likeable and the dialogue itself feels a little forced. The chemistry is mostly not too great between Noah and Elle. It really feels like I’m being a bit harsh with the film but I’m not trying to. Its not all bad to be fair. Every single film has one highlight event and that usually lands pretty well. Much like the second movie’s dance competition preparation, this film was all about Lee and Elle’s summer bucket list. That part was a ton of fun as it really focused on their friendship and the fun ideas that they had, no matter ridiculous or silly that it would be. Those moments packed in some fun surprises overall.

These films really are at its worst when it focuses on the deeper feelings as it just doesn’t carry well. In fact, they become really frustrating to watch in general. I’m usually pretty easy to please in this department (considering I watch Asian dramas which are probably the most formulaic). However, Elle and Lee has this solid friendship that seems to easily break apart when life throws them curveballs and Elle doesn’t choose Lee in some situations, which on some level is understandable. Elle and Noah is just an annoying relationship as their chemistry isn’t too great and the arguments increase with each film over the same issues essentially. Its this vicious cycle that whether its one person being careless about the other or they are fighting for each other, it just feels like something is missing between them while they seem to pair up much better with their other friends.

With that said, the character development here is visible. For Elle, she’s a much more likable character as she is working hard to balance everything even if some moments still sees her being a little insensible as she’s overwhelmed but there are shining points of her that truly get shown here. Its the same for Noah and Lee individually. Perhaps the most heartwarming moments are the family ones especially the conversations between them and the parents. Molly Ringwald’s character as Mrs. Flynn is one that truly shines when she acts as a parent figure for Elle much like Elle and her dad’s conversations also are pretty heartfelt as well. However, I do want to mention that the character of Marco, played Taylor Zakhar Perez is pretty good even if his role here is even lesser than his previous one. He is a pretty good second male interest which is a likeable character overall.

Overall, The Kissing Booth 3 is one that I felt pretty indifferent. It delivers about the same feelings as the previous two films. Its not a complete loss but its really not my type of film. While some bits are fun to watch, it never adds to the story as a whole. It might be a script problem or an acting problem or just the cast and chemistry issue. Its hard to really say at this point. As a little spoiler (highlight to see if you have seen the film or don’t mind reading it) and a general thought about the ending: the best part of the film was breaking up the characters at the end and if the film had kept them broken up as the big finale, years down the road, it would have landed so much better. But then, it wouldn’t fit the film genre and turn into some romantic drama, I suppose. If you’ve liked the previous 2 films, you will probably like this one, if you didn’t, then its really up to you whether finishing the trilogy is worth it or not.

He’s All That (2021)

He’s All That (2021)

Director: Mark Waters

Cast: Addison Rae, Tanner Buchanan, Madison Pettis, Rachel Leigh Cook, Matthew Lillard, Peyton Meyer, Isabella Crovetti, Annie Jacob, Myra Molloy

A teenage girl sets out to give a nebbish classmate the ultimate high school makeover. An updated remake of the 1999 film, ‘She’s All That’. – IMDB

Its been 22 years since She’s All That, He’s All That is a remake which uses the same premise as its 1999 counterpart but with flipped female and male character roles set in our current social media modern world where the girl takes on a bet to makeover a guy instead of the original where the popular guy makes over a geeky girl because of a bet to turn her into the prom queen. It definitely feels like making movies where its the same premise, swapping roles or modernizing it feels really redundant. In fact, it shows a lack of creativity for something new. Sad to say that He’s All That is pretty much exactly that. Of course, that’s coming from myself who only did see She’s All That (review) about a decade ago for the first time for this blog in its early days well past my high school days when the film was released and probably would have been more impactful and just ended up falling a tad flat overall. So, He’s All That being released felt like it was banking on a lot of nostalgia which I also didn’t have. Of course, that’s all on a rather subjective level but looking at it on a more objective level as a standalone film, it also doesn’t hold up too well.

Teen romantic comedy films have had its hit and misses over the years. Much like romantic comedy films, its based a lot on the chemistry and the characters itself. Right off the bat, it feels like there’s a lot of very unnatural and lack of chemistry between the two leads, Addison Rae and Tanner Buchanan playing respectively, Padgett and Cameron. The two characters aren’t badly written as they do fit into the current social media landscape as it makes Padgett out as a middle class single mom family trying to pretend that she is part of an upper class family to fit into her school while also being a successful influencer which shares lifestyle tips and other advices where right off the bat, it all is a bit staged, making her life especially the popularity she built feels rather fake. There’s something really over the top with this character that its a little unbearable at times however the script that give her some more real moments when she interacts with Cameron, a photography-obsessed, against the current outcast of the school life with essentially one best friend who dreams for high school to end so that he can go travel the world. The two together is the typical opposite attracts sort of story. In reality, Cameron is a pretty decently written character and well acted for the most part individually. The moments where Cameron and Padgett just feels too rushed and disjointed to actually feel like these two have the chemistry together.

For the teen high school elements of the film, it does reflect it well enough especially when the current social media heavy world is a big part of it as Padgett’s life is upholding her influencer status. Of course, a part of it is her trying to keep it so that she can build up her college fund and help out her family which makes her character likable. How high school changed with the help of social media community is also well-portrayed. In some ways, it also reflects that whether in the past or the present, the high school dynamic doesn’t change too much. Obviously, I’m not in high school anymore so I’m not exactly the person to talk about how high school environment is right now but it does feel like other than bad news spreading even faster through the help of social media and technology advancement, its rather the same. But then, the high school dynamic is centered on the people in it: fake friends, betrayal, people trying to get prom king and queen, the shallowness of teenagers, exes and of course, the best people being the characters’ friends or sibling which adds positivity in the low times. The better moments of the film truly revolve around the other characters interaction rather than focusing on Cameron and Padgett as their storyline is just done to death over the many years of teen rom-coms.

Being a film that banks on nostalgia, they also bring in some characters played by the original cast. The most notable being Rachel Leigh Cook as Padgett’s mother and Matthew Lillard as the principal. These two characters are pretty decent supporting characters and probably add the most point to the film. Its not from a nostalgia element for myself but would for fans of She’s All That but they also have some fun characters. They add some color to this film overall even if they don’t have a big role overall. Much like there’s some fun makeover montage moments of trying out clothes with the crew that was pretty fun right down to a dance battle sequence during prom night that felt out of place but still okay.

Overall, He’s All That is a pretty forgettable experience. Its not quite as good as the first film. The acting is not particularly good. It lacks chemistry between the main leads. While its not a complete destruction, there’s a lot of issues with the script and dialogue (or maybe I’m just not in with the young crowd which is highly probably). Addison Rae is a huge part of the story as she is the main focal point and the film is from her point of view and yet she doesn’t seem to be able to hold up the film enough even if some of the other side characters are rather entertaining to watch. As a final note, movies likes this really feel like its unnecessary as the resources could be in making more original stories rather than just rehashing and that bothers more than the film not being good as I didn’t really have high expectations in the first place.

Fear Street: Part Three -1666 (2021)

Fear Street: Part Three – 1666 (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Leigh Janiak

Cast: Kiana Madeira, Ashley Zukerman, Gillian Jacobs, Olivia Scott Welch, Elizabeth Scopel, Benjamin Flores Jr., Julia Rehwald, Matthew Zuk, Fred Hechinger, Michael Chandler, McCabe Slye

The origins of Sarah Fier’s curse are finally revealed as history comes full circle on a night that changes the lives of Shadysiders forever. IMDB

Picking up right after Part Two, Part Three takes a turn as it changes its tone and style from the slasher genre (at least the first part) into a more slow-paced 17th century superstitious supernatural setting. In some ways, it takes a similar approach to films like The Witch where it plays a lot on its characters and the sudden bad omens that bestow what used to be Shadyside. This last part of the trilogy takes it back to the beginning and origin of how this Sarah Fier curse all started before heading into Part 2 of 1994 as its big finale as the current day situation tries to be solved. Part Three is structured to build up the big reveal of what this curse is all about and how it started and then the big finale so it really does complete a full circle of events. The contrast between the first half set in 1666 and the second half where its the continuation of the Part One in 1994 is very apparent but also what makes this one rather intriguing as well.

Looking at the 1666 origin story, Part Three takes a rather different route in both tone and atmosphere and it has to do with the setting in time. That’s of course a given. Plus, in contrast with the previous two parts, it does take a turn. The soundtrack also changes to something more of an orchestral soundtrack with more classical sounding music to match the times. The dialogue also shifts over while the story switches to a small town mentality towards the suspicions of witchcraft causing the town to be cursed because Sarah Fier does things against the religious teachings.

There’s some familiar character structures even for these types of films and they are introduced using the familiar faces from the previous parts and even perhaps how characters in their past lives are very similar to how they are in their other lives. Its a pretty nice character building in that level to be able to callback to these characters in their different times. Stories that start off more slow paced and reserve do usually boost up very well in its peak of events and reveal as this comes to a nice twist of who is cause of this Sarah Fier curse and giving clues to Deena who had been embodied in Sarah Fier in 1666 to figure out a way to end all this.

What makes the 1666 stand out is how its paired up with the 1994 continuation which brings to a very fun and fast-paced finale as not only the characters come together, giving Gillian Jacobs grown-up Ziggy from Part Two more screen time, but also a visual contrast dialing back to a neon color palette from its earthy tons in the past setting while also using its setting from Part Two and Part Three to all link back together from all the knowledge from travelling through to 1978 and 1666 and then finally bringing that back to 1994 as its big finale where all the elements piece everything back together.

Fear Street Part Three is a definite treat. The first part set in 1666 might not land as well for some due to its setting and the general tone those horror movies tend to have. Plus, the horror is still mostly not there except for the gore levels. However, the story does make up for a lot of this in its story and style to make it a lot of fun. Part Three brings it to a satisfying high point for its finale which is executed really well.

As a final thought on Fear Street trilogy event as a whole, it does work together really well. Plus, expanding a story into three weeks is also a good idea. Its almost like watching a TV series or mini-series but this one, each film wraps itself up well enough but still manages to leave some room for intrigue for the next film. If anything, Fear Street demonstrated the diversity of Leigh Janiak as a horror director as she moves through various styles of horror films but builds up the atmosphere to match up each element and keeps pretty well-rounded whether its as a teen Scream homage or a summer camp slasher or a old-time supernatural. The three films do piece together really well and it all dials down to execution and the events moving backwards to reveal its beginning in order to get to its end. Hopefully this is a start to Netflix building more stories around this sort of film event.

Fear Street: Part Two – 1978 (2021)

Fear Street: Part Two – 1978 (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Leigh Janiak

Cast: Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, Ryan Simpkins, McCabe Slye, Gillian Jacobs, Matthew Zuk, Kiana Madeira, Benjamin Flores Jr., Olivia Scott Welsh, Brandon Spink, Chiara Aurelia, Ted Sutherland

Shadyside, 1978. School’s out for summer and the activities at Camp Nightwing are about to begin. But when another Shadysider is possessed with the urge to kill, the fun in the sun becomes a gruesome fight for survival. – IMDB

Fear Street Part Two continues the first part as they seek out the one person who survived the 1978 Camp Nightwing situation. As she recounts the situation, the story plays out throughout the film following the Berman sisters, Ziggy and Cindy who are at summer camp and Cindy’s boyfriend Tommy ends up being possessed. Paying homage to movies like Friday the 13th, summer camp slashers are always a little campy and yet after the foundation building from Part One, Part Two steps it up a little. There’s more gore and the kills are done rather well, with some moments leaving the aftermath than the actual deed. There is a little more of a hunt and the areas range more as the Sarah Fier possession side (aka what I call the lore) dives deeper as the sisters learn quite a bit about it. They explore some nooks and cranny areas that really have quite the horror film aesthetic. The atmosphere and settings does give space for a little more tension to build up perhaps some anticipated fear even though, overall the film isn’t scary either but its a lot more heart pumping fun than the previous with more chase scenes and plays more like how you’d expect a summer camp massacre to play out.

Looking at Part Two, a lot of its credit goes into its characters. For one, how the 1994 ones who survived the Camp Nightwing situation was back in 1978 and gives their characters a background and development. On the other hand, the Berman sisters are shown with enough character development from the start to the finish that they make you want to cheer for them especially as they start off being such opposite characters. While their backstory isn’t a lot, its also not exactly necessary. Plus, it doesn’t sit around trying to hash out problems, they are more about the action. Their actions prove that while they differ in opinions on certain things and the changes that Cindy made that has also thrown Ziggy off, when push comes to the shove and the dangers appear, they are trying their best to get each other out of the mess even if it means making sacrifices for each other. A lot of the credit has to go to the female actresses Sadie Sink and Emily Rudd, who plays respectively Ziggy and Cindy. Part Two builds up a lot of the other characters, perhaps the most notable being the backstory of Nick Goode (as he is in Part One) and in part also how the Nightwing killer comes to be how he appears in 1994.

For the most part, Part Two is a pretty solid slasher but in reality, its a lot more than that. It dives further into the Sarah Fier story and from what we’ve seen, its playing out as an evil spirit and possession sort of story. The cuts between the two sisters explores those two dangers completely and they each piece together a different side of the puzzle. This one also takes a step further and adds more killers to the equation from the ones seen in the first part which is always fun. Part Two essentially sets the stage for Part Three so that when it ends in the 1994 continuation, they are able to put together the missing pieces from Part One and hopefully break this Shadyside curse and save whoever needs to be saved. Talking about 1994, I really do love seeing Gillian Jacobs even if this role is fairly little in this part.

Overall, Part Two is pretty much what you would expect from watching a trilogy going backward in events to piece things together as Part One is the end result and we get to see the progression of events that leads to it. Of course, that might also lead to some predictable moments and knowing the result of things might make it less intriguing to watch but Part Two does such a good job in execution that it isn’t really an issue here for the most part. Of course (for those that didn’t see the Part One review), I haven’t read the source material so maybe its less of a surprise of those who are more knowledgeable of the story. While the tone of the film doesn’t seem to change too much from the first to the second, it does focus much heavier on the violent slasher side and turns it up plus, the new decade setting also means the soundtrack changes to fun 70s music which also works well with its scenes. Part Two is definitely a fun one and a decent step up from its previous part.

Fear Street: Part One – 1994 (2021)

Fear Street: Part One – 1994 (2021)

Director: Leigh Janiak

Cast: Kiana Madeira, Olivia Scott Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Julia Rehwald, Fred Hechinger, Ashley Zukerman, Maya Hawke, David W. Thompson

A circle of teenage friends accidentally encounter the ancient evil responsible for a series of brutal murders that have plagued their town for over 300 years. Welcome to Shadyside. – IMDB

Based on teenage book series by R.L. Stine, Fear Street is adapted as a film trilogy to be released over 3 weeks. The first one is set in the story in 1994 and oddly the trilogy goes backwards to part 2 in 1978 and part 2 in 1666. At first glance, it looks like a unique way to approach story telling and execution especially as its about diving into a lore looming over this town for centuries. While I do love Goosebumps, I have never read the source material or any of the Fear Street novels so this review is solely based on the film.

As the first film of a trilogy, 1994 sets the stage for the present scenario of how Shadyside is towards this evil presence and what brings it to life and whether it is possible to break out of the curse and how as the film follows the teens as they discover with a little trial and error. In the process it refers back to 1978 and 1666 which are the next two films in the trilogy, giving it both a link but also leaving anticipation for the mystery ahead. In some ways, it feels a little backwards and yet, it might work. Being a R.L. Stine adaptation though, it has a more horror comedy feeling to it and even for the killer itself feels almost like a parody or a homage. I’m not sure which its meant to be. With that said, the film isn’t too scary but has decent amount of blood considering it is a slasher film. The film score is full of 90s music which not only matches to the setting but also is a great fit for the different scenes.

The cinematography also deserves a mention. All the settings that the teens move through are great. The opening scene sets the tone and style of the film immediately using both the setting, the lighting and colors to create suspense and tension. The film moves through a good few locations from shopping mall to the school to outdoor areas. It moves rather quickly through its scene keeping it quick-paced and engaging.

However, Fear Street 1994 has some issues as well. Well, I guess one of the bigger problems might be the acting. There’s nothing wrong with the whole teen thing and in reality, playing teens gives a lot of forgiveness for saying weird and awkward stuff or even saying and doing things that don’t logically make sense. But, I do offer a lot of lenience personally on silly decisions in teen-focused films especially slasher.

Overall, Fear Street Part One is a decent start. If anything, it lays out the intrigue for the horror/mystery on hand, whatever you want to call it. However, for hardcore horror fans, I feel like the scary elements a little low but there is some gore. Plus, the setting and atmosphere is done really well along with the fantastic soundtrack, it really boosts the film up in enjoyability. As an ending thought, while I don’t have anything bad to say about it for the most part and I do look forward to the next part. I can’t help but feel like the film is a slightly forgettable in plot as it feels very familiar like a mesh of a few other popular things around (maybe that’s why it feels like a homage or parody either/or…I don’t watch enough parody to be able to tell).

TV Binge: Resident Evil : Infinite Darkness (Season 1, 2021)

Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness (Season 1, 2021)

Creator: Hiroyuki Kobayashi

Voice cast: Nick Apostolides, Ray Chase, Stephanie Panisello, Jona Xiao, Billy Kametz, Doug Stone, Joe Thomas, Brad Venable

Federal agent Leon S. Kennedy teams up with TerraSave staff member Claire Redfield to investigate a zombie outbreak. Based on the popular video game series of the same name by Capcom. – IMDB

Running at a swift 4 episodes of approximately 26 minutes each, Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness is probably the quickest and shortest TV binge that I’ve done as its about the length of an average movie so pretty much a one sitting sort of series. The premise of the story pulls away from being heavy on zombies but rather takes a turn for a more political conspiracy and investigative nature following two storylines. The first following Leon who is called in to be a part of a team that will investigate the recent hacking of internal systems and zombie outbreak in the White House and the second follows Claire Redfield who looks further into Penamstan’s civil war six years ago that might be a government cover-up for a zombie outbreak.

Most people come into a Resident Evil entry to see zombies and its not wrong but taking the side of padding out a bit more of the bioweapon backstory is pretty nice and moving away from Umbrella and focusing more on a political angle. Sure, there’s still zombies and action but this animated series proves that there is more stories to tell and so much more of this world that can be expanded on that can give it more depth. Not to mention, the animation is done so well, comparable to that of the recent game remakes, that it almost feels like a live action series. Not only the setting and locations but even the characters all look realistic. With that said, Leon has always been a good-looking guy but somehow this one, he seems even better (but then, I haven’t played Resident Evil 2 remake yet so it might be a similar model just a little aged as this is set between the Resident Evil 4 and 5 games).

Talking about the story and characters, the execution is well-structured. As the story progresses in the present story line, it almost going back to tell the story of the past for each of their new characters specifically Leon’s new teammates, Jason and Shen May as their story helps contribute to the current story but also helps their character development also. Each having their own motives as to why they are on the team and on this specific mission. Of course, Leon and Claire’s story is already fairly familiar to fans so its only touched upon quickly and not lingered on for a long time. Perhaps for new viewers to the franchise, it might leave them feeling less structured. However, the story itself is set years after their first appearance so doesn’t need too much backstory to support them although knowing about it will help connect with their characters better, considering new viewers won’t have the knowledge that these two are key and beloved characters in the games.

This is an animated series so voice cast is a big part of the immersion. Both Claire and Leon are voiced by the Resident Evil 2 Remake’s game voice cast, Stephanie Panisello and Nick Apostolides respectively. They both capture the two characters incredibly well. Voicing Jason is Ray Chase, a voice actor who has a lot of experience when looking at his extensive voice cast roles in many video games perhaps the biggest and recognizable as Noctis in Final Fantasy XV along with known roles other popular games like NieR: Automata, Horizon Zero Dawn, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, etc. Jason is a key character here and probably one that incurs the most change throughout especially as his back story is pretty intriguing. However, that’s not saying that the voice actress Jona Xiao voicing Shen May, who has less experience looking at her filmography doesn’t do a pretty solid job as well. There are some little moments that the characters, especially the political discussions where it feels a little over done but overall, the English voice casting is done really well.

Whether its character designs or the zombies and the atmosphere and setting for the overall show, its done incredibly well and keeps it paced quickly so it stays both entertaining and immersive to want to find out who is behind this and what is actually going on. In a franchise that feels like there’s been a lot of different directions that’s been taken both in the movies and the games itself, the series is refreshing because it reminds its viewers what the actual story is about. Sure, there’s zombies and there’s mutated big monsters and Umbrella but in the depth of all of this, its about the creation of bioweapons and the consequences that its brought to the world. This is a viral outbreak and how the world is handling it so it makes sense that this one strays further from being heavy on big zombie action scenes but goes back to focusing on the political side of the whole ordeal and the conflicts between countries so on and so forth.

Overall, Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness is an awesome series. Its short and sweet and a fantastic little binge. I’m a big fan of Resident Evil so I might be a little biased but looking at this new direction with some new characters, it shouldn’t be too hard for new viewers to the franchise to get into it the story either.

Good on Paper (2021)

Good on Paper (2021)

Director: Kimmy Gatewood

Cast: Iliza Shlesinger, Ryan Hansen, Margaret Cho, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Beth Dover, Kimia Behpoornia

After years of putting her career first, a stand-up comic meets a guy who seems perfect: smart, nice, successful and possibly too good to be true. – IMDB

When you go into a romantic comedy where its cast is full of comedians, its easy to assume that comedy will be probably prevail over its romance. Good On Paper is pretty much like that. Of course, comedy is subjective so its probably best to decide on the style based on how much you enjoy Iliza Shlesinger’s stand-up comedy. The story is a little ridiculous but considering that its inspired from something that actually happened to Iliza Shlesinger, the whole piece feels a lot like a comedy skit which also means that (in my limited understanding of comedy skits and stand-up comedy) that there’s bound to be bits that work and bits that don’t. Plus, its hard to not feel like there’s a little over the top element to the acting which definitely feels deliberate and also works for some parts and doesn’t really land for others. That being said, the overall feeling is a little average however, I do have to say that the approach and end-game is definitely different from the usual romantic comedy, which does make it refreshing to watch.

Being a film filled with some familiar faces, its hard to not look at the acting element. Iliza Shlesinger is a decent actress as she plays Andrea. A part of the execution is paralleled with a stand-up comedy performance that runs throughout the film which pretty much uses the situation on hand as her reflection of it and turning it into content for her show. The other part is the movie itself which still feels a lot like herself when she is in this role. Its very genuine and believable for her character itself even if some of the situations might not feel as believable but this is “mostly true love story” so I’m sure some bits are exaggerated to be the way that it is. Paired up with her is the male lead played by Ryan Hansen. A lot of the interaction is meant to be laid on really heavy so that its obvious that she’s falling into a trap (at least to me). I guess proving the point that when something is too good to be true, it most likely is. Perhaps even something of a cautionary tale about catfishes…maybe? That’s actually a tangent to talk about Ryan Hansen who was pretty convincing in this role since there were some pretty good shifts in the little details in his reactions and stuff that built his character up to be pretty sketchy.

Its hard to not talk about the female comedians and cast here that definitely steals the show and arguably, this film is its best when its their interaction. Iliza Shlesinger’s best friend is a bar owner called Margot played by Margaret Cho who is absolutely hilarious and absolutely is the highlight of this film. Plus, Margot and Andrea’s friendship is pretty fun especially when you add in the other ladies here whether its one of the guy’s roommates played by Beth Dover and the fake competition between a more successful actress Serrena played by Rebecca Rittenhouse. The three end up having a hilarious ride around town tracking down the lies of Andrea’s beau.

When its all said and done, Good on Paper is okay. It works much better as a comedy, if you like this sort of comedy style than as a romantic comedy. However, the fact that it is mostly based on a true story, it feels like a fun way to share a cautionary story and even with how they choose to end it is a lot different from how a normal romantic comedy would do it which makes this one that I can appreciate.

TV Binge: Detention (返校, 2020)

Detention (返校, 2020)

Director: I-Hsuan Su, Shiang-an Chuang, Yi Liu

Cast: Lingwei Li, Ning Han, Guanzhi Huang, Jack Yao, Teng-hung Hsia, David hao, Guanxu Luo, Kunda Wu, Serena Fang, Carol Cheng, Han Chang, Jui-hsueh Tsai, Chih-chien Lin

A tormented student uncovers unsettling secrets at her remote high school as betrayal and a paranormal encounter upend her life. – IMDB

Based on the 2017 point and click horror game of the same name developed by Taiwanese game developers as their debut game, Detention has gone on to a horror movie adaptation in 2019 (review) and followed last year with the release of their Netflix series based on the game but having a different story arc moving into the 90s and using the backdrop of the original source material to create a psychological horror drama.

Running at 8 episodes, Detention is an interesting blend as it starts off in the psychological horror territory and gradually retracts into a more drama-focused direction as the characters come into place while bringing in a sort of time loop element in its finale. Perhaps the best area that this could be considered is more of a gothic drama as nothing is going to really scare you a lot save for a few moments perhaps the opening episode having the most horror-esque scene. It does have a lot of themes revolving more touchy subjects with suicide and mental illness being a big one.

This adaptation, while taking its own liberation in the 90s, still manages to weave in the key plot points of the source material. That being said, the two girls whether its the ghost girl from the 70s, Rui Xin who wants some kind of revenge and is using her pendant to occupy a girl with her own unknown agenda and luring them in by fulfilling their wishes and then pushing them a certain extent versus this latest new to town girl, Yun Xiang with her mental illness and broken family actually draws a strong parallel between the two characters that gradually form the two characters and their dependency and connection as well. The two are probably the more intriguing characters as both the past and the present runs its own course. The focus on the present makes it interesting to see a lot of taboo situations happen whether with messing with spirits or the student-teacher relationship or even the warped values of Greenwood high School.

Other than the two female leads, there are some pretty good characters here and some situations that truly do make for some ethics and morals to come into play. The more villainous type of characters definitely do an impressive job. In reality, the story even has this weird focus of making these men into pretty much horrible people overall from the selfish principal to the controlling Inspector Bai down to the new teacher, Shen Hua. Even the neglectful father of Yun Xiang is pretty much a very unlikeable sort of character. They all do such a great job at making you mostly despise their actions overall. Putting the villains aside, there is one character of note and that is Yun Xiang’s schoolmate Wen Liang who may be pegged as a bad student in school but in reality is one of the more down to earth and genuine character in the whole scenario and truly looking out for Yun Xiang while also being a link to the spirit world and a character linked to the past scenario.

Playing with themes of revenge, school troubles, mental illness, student/teacher relationship, its brings in a lot of different elements that come into play through the 8 episodes. While the pacing isn’t exactly speedy, it still feels well-paced enough to keep things moving constantly and revealing the story gradually. The last 3 episodes add in a really good element that gives the series a nice twist that manages to pull the past and present situation together that definitely adds to the whole end game. Overall, an impressive little Taiwanese series that involves the supernatural but also shows the bad side of some people.